My First Experience With NBA Topshots

A description of my first day with the latest collector craze, and how I'm approaching it

If you’re reading this, then you have probably at least heard of Jonathan Bales, one of the co-founders of FantasyLabs. Bales is way sharper than I’ll ever be (and also far more disciplined given his success in the pushup challenge), so when he starts talking about a new market or investment, I try to listen with an open mind.

Recently, he posted on his Substack — Lucky Maverick — about NBA Topshots. Well, more generally he posted about non-fungible tokens (NFTs), but when you spend $35,000 on something that tends to be the lead. I recommend checking out Bales’ post prior to starting this one.

In any event, I finally decided to get in the mix, and start purchasing my own moments. I’ll talk a little bit here about my process, thoughts on Topshots, and what I’ve secured so far!

Patiently Waiting

I have a pretty risk-averse temperament, so just instantly diving head-first into Topshots was not really on the table for me. And, like many, I had a lot of initial confusion as to what they actually were. Research was necessary before I could feel comfortable investing.

My initial take on moments was that they are legitimately very cool things to own. The Harry Potter fan in me immediately thought of Chocolate Frog cards, where the pictures move because, you know, magic. The idea of perhaps one day having an office with my moments looping in digital picture frames is quite appealing.

I remember being a kid and Pokémon cards being a huge deal. I also remember them being a hot mess. Buying/trading/sharing/etc. with physical cards is a cumbersome, with lots of paths to ruin even if you end up finding a signature card. Topshots are all centralized in one place, with no need to worry about authenticity, damage, and other pitfalls. In short, this seems great.

So conceptually, I was sold, but how to actually value cards? I have never really taken card collection seriously, and had no idea what cards would be considered “good” in the marketplace. Bales’ post helped me to understand the potential value in things such as serial number, but I wanted to see some items play out without risking my own dollars before getting in.

So I logged into Topshots and just spent time watching the marketplace on cards. I’d take note of cards (sorry, I’m going to keep calling them cards) that seemed interesting to me, and others that did not. Then later on I’d go back and check to see how those cards were doing. In some cases, this likely cost me some money. In others, I likely saved some by waiting and watching. I’d say I likely left more money on the table than not because the two primary things I noticed were:

  1. Most cards that “seemed” valuable increased in value

  2. Many cards that did not increase in value could still be re-sold for a small loss

Alas, no use crying over (un)spilt milk. At least now I had a better idea of what to look for. I also was able to get some great tips from my buddy Ryan Noonan, and that helped me to feel a lot more confident in getting started.

The Plan

As I’ve noted in the past, I’m a bit of a nit when it comes to bankroll management. As a result, I felt it important to set some ground rules for myself before officially entering the market.

For starters, I felt it made the most sense to treat each individual purchase as I would a wager while sports-betting. However, there is also some correlation to these purchases, since the overall moments market will have an impact on those individual prices and values. With all of that in mind, these were the “rules” I came up with for myself:

  1. Keep most purchases to 1% or less of my bankroll

  2. Maximum purchase of 5%

  3. Do not have an excess of 10% of my total bankroll invested at any one time

Based on my chats with Nooner and others, I felt ready to find some worthwhile moments to start my portfolio.

The Maiden Voyage

It was a bit of a rush logging in with the intention to buy for the first time. Given my bankroll, I was looking to purchase moments that were under $100, with a chance to grow.

I started out a little unconventional probably, with a Jarrett Allen block from last season.

I chose this card for a few reasons:

  1. Allen has been excellent in per-minute production

  2. Allen is no longer on Brooklyn, meaning these moments are even more scarce

  3. Allen could truly breakout as a member of the Cavs long-term

  4. It’s a rare Series 1, which was my preferred market to buy into at the start

From there, I added a Tobias Harris Throwdown, another rare S1. In fact, I was able to purchase eight different rare S1’s in total for $498. My favorites are a Jamal Murray dunk from the playoffs, and a Bam Adebayo “jump shot” that I was able to get a low-ish serial number on (#63).

These rare S1s appear to be rapidly increasing in price. According to intangible.market, most have roughly doubled in price — if not more — since the time I bought them. That’s in less than a day. I’m definitely excited to hold these cards, and see where their value goes.

Perhaps the most interesting moment I purchased was a Metallic Gold LE Jarrell Brantley Layup. Brantley isn’t exactly a household name — and likely never will be — but I’m intrigued at the potential value of this card. It is from the bubble, and during Brantley’s rookie year. The Metallic Gold moments also seem to be very popular right now. To me, this is an interesting test case of player value versus card scarcity. It is possible (likely?) Brantley will never have another moment worthy of Metallic Gold, and there are a limited number of bubble moments overall.

Of course, my first day wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I purchased my first pack, which was comprised of three duds. I also made an impulse purchase that may have been a mistake. I saw a Zion Williamson LE layup from Series 2 marked at a low of $80. Everything Zion seems to be popping the marketplace, so I bought it.

However, this is a common card, with 7500 minted. With so many out there, folks started posting lower than my purchase looking to sell. I saw the price dropping. When it got to $65, I bought another, compounding my mistake. The current market low is $62. I do think that it will eventually come up once a lot of these cards are sold, and Zion has a chance to be a truly special player, but I’m viewing these as errors and potential losses.

When to Sell?

This is the part I’m not really sure about. I think for now, with the market rising and people becoming more interested in Topshots, it makes sense to buy and hold. But I have no idea for how long, or what my target should be in terms of price. My plan is to try and get a feel for that as I go. I *think* that even if I’m a little late on selling windows, I will likely still turn a profit given the prices I paid for most of my moments.

Regardless, this has already been an incredibly fun experience. NFTs should end up being the future of card-trading, and I’m looking forward to other sports getting involved in this growing space. If you haven’t yet checked out Topshots, I highly recommend it.

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